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"Stickyness", "Purpose", (an Introduction with Diablo 3)
by Michael DeFazio on 07/07/12 02:39:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


"what's the purpose of this game anyways?" 
...was going through my head when i had enough of Diablo 3.  for 20 hours i was entertained, but--thinking how things would be if i played another 20--my interest waned.
"back to Dark Souls" i thought;
"lemme start over with a depraved melee build this time". 

thing is...i've already beaten every challenge, collected every item and scoured every inch of the game world in Dark Souls, meanwhile the majority of content for Diablo 3 (new characters, skills, gear, challenges) lay ahead of me totally neglected/unexperienced.  it's not that i disliked Diablo 3 (on the contrary) i enjoyed my 20+ hours with it, and feel like i can walk away satisfied.  but after beating the game on "Normal" and playing a bit of "Nightmare", i realized there was nothing really "sticky" about it for me, so i quit...

...and this wasn't the first time this has happened (walking away from a game which i "enjoyed"; to replay a game i'd already 100%'ed.) Skyrim is another recent example of a game i loved but it just didn't stick (despite the fact most of the games' items, quests, story, locations, and perks lay ahead...unexperienced).   

stepping back for a moment i thought it would be interesting to analyze: 

  • what it is about games (you enjoy) that keep you playing ("stickyness") 
  • conversely what is it about games (you enjoy) that cause you to loose interest 

so "sticky" describes the capacity of continued enjoyment people get from games, i wanted to try to condense the concept of what makes games "sticky" in a more manageable form for the sake of discussion.  after struggling for a while, i decided on using the word "purpose"; which in the context of this post is made of a balance/combination of  these things with respect to games: 

  • game mechanics (it's fun to blow stuff up in Crackdown, or snipe in Skyrim,...)
  • rewards        (things you "earn" : perks, xp, gold, money, acheivments, gear,...)
  • challenge      (tough enemies or situations: "flamelurker",  "super meat boy"platforming, portal puzzles...) 
  • investment   (spent x hours on MY lvl 60 paladin...) 
  • creativity   (allow user to express themselves: a uss enterprise model in minecraft, custom paintjob in forza...) 
  • community   (all my friends play online there (CoD, WoW), leaderboards...)
  • variation      (new content: skyrim mods, LBP user created levels) 
  • (some others i can think of offhard: mystery, environment, "style", narrative...) 
in simple terms, we may describe our "purpose" as an "elevator speech" to describe why we keep coming back to some games. so, for  Diablo 3, it's "purpose" could be described as an "item hunt"... from Diablo 3's Community Manager Bashiok:

"we believed pre-release that the item hunt would be far more sustainable, and would work to be a proper end-game for quite a while. That didn’t turn out to be true, and we recognize that.  There needs to be something else that keeps people engaged, and we know it’s not there right now."

... and herein lies the rub (for Diablo 3). if the driving "purpose" of Diablo 3 is the "item hunt" and the features and systems are built around the "item hunt", Blizzard might have a hard time getting players to "stick" if thier plan is deliver "more" as enunciated in this quote (same article):

"We aren’t going to be able to pump out tons of new systems and content every couple months. There needs to be something else that keeps people engaged, and we know it’s not there right now."

i can't speak for others, but here were MY reasons for quitting Diablo 3:
  • lack of investment- i did not feel "invested" in my character (a level 30 monk is a level 30 monk with the same stats and abilities) 
  • lack of interest in community- coop was an interesting diversion (but noone seemed incentivized to cooperate in my limited experience with it)...and got tired of spam messages when i opened the chatbox  
  • lack of variation- running through the same environments/story/quest and hearing the same dialog was tedious the second time around 
  • game mechanics - i enjoyed the "click, click, click" game mechanics on "Normal", but kiting around in circles was not fun at the harder difficulty levels (and I only played to "Nightmare"
  • lack of worthwhile rewards- the fact that you could circumvent playing the game and "buy" the best gear was dishearteneing, the (self-admitted) purpose/reason for playing the game was the "item hunt" ... but if those item drops were no better than what i could buy in the auction house, why play at all? 
so, just to be clear, this post is not about bashing Blizzard for Diablo 3, (as i said before, i am satisfied with my purchase, and I'm not telling them anything they don't already know).  i just wanted to illustrate first off what i mean by "sticky" and "purpose", and secondly describe how Blizzard built a game around this (rather narrow) "item hunt purpose" and misjudged how "sticky" this game was going to be.  

at this point, i just don't see an easy fix to get those who have abandoned to come back..., but perhaps (more "radical") things can be done:
  1. allow players to "invest" in skills or their character in a way that makes a substantive difference  
  2. figure out a way to incentivize people to play together as a team (build community)
  3. provide interesting and unique content or game modes (perhaps unique puzzles or challenges)  
  4. add excitement into loot drops (perhaps some powerful items could drop and be "bound/personalized" to your character and these "embuements" do not transfer (if the items goes to the auction house)) 
  5. world events or something completely unique and shocking (throw us a curveball or something unexpected to change the experience)
for my last point i would argue that the auction house feature greatly diminishes the "item hunt purpose" of the Diablo3  (adding features like these however cool or useful can be detrimental to the "stickyness" of a game.)

(up next:


  • why purpose > "more"
  • skyrim (fantastic; but a chore)
  • the multiple dimensions of "purpose"
  • pogo backgammon
  • what makes good dlc

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Darren Tomlyn
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(As usual all my replies are built upon the contents of my blog - (click my name)).

Everything that has happened (and is happening) with Diablo III, I saw coming from light-years away...

(Note - it's lose (interest), not loose ;) ) - (lot's of people make that mistake these days, and it always jars me, every time I see it :-/ ).

The moment the emphasis for a game changes from the competitive process to the end result/rewards given of and for such a process, you know longer have a game, but a competition - (the story being told by the game/its developers, replaces/overrides the story written by the player). This is a problem, and not just with Diablo III, but with many, many games being made/released today/recently.

And it's precisely because Diablo III is NOT about the players anymore, but about the game and what it does to and for the player, that I refuse to play it.

So to answer your questions:

1. What it is about games (you enjoy) that keep you playing ("stickyness")?
2. Conversely what is it about games (you enjoy) that cause you to lose interest?


Of all the elements you mention, only ONE, truly matters, because it objectively enables the application of behaviour we call/label as a game in the first place:

Game mechanics.

Whether or not a game is functional or even good/bad, (in general), is usually based almost entirely upon its mechanics, (also in relation to its setting).

EVERY other element is subjective, either on behalf of a specific application - (a specific game) - or the perceptions of individual players etc. - and, unlike the above element, are NOT specific to any particular ACTIVITY, let alone a game. This isn't to say that they cannot help make a good game better, (subjectively), but they are not required for a game to exist in the first place*

(Challenge in this particular context is merely a side-effect of competition, that, again, is subjectively perceived and applied). (Games can exist that are not challenging, whilst still involving competition).

So what keeps me playing a game?

Solid and interesting, game-mechanics (or funny/amusing), that hopefully offer enough depth in their development to keep me going. (Some RPG's offer me the latter, whereas games like Unreal Tournament (2004) tend to offer more of the former - (especially in the funny/amusing category with the voicepacks I've created/added)).


Likewise here, the biggest element that got left out for Diablo III, that their second game had, was one of the most powerful elements/types possible:

(User-defined/influenced) gameplay development.

Pretty much every problem you have with Diablo III, is related to that in some way.

Unfortunately, we currently have problems with the perception and understanding of such a general, fundamental element/type of game, at this time:

1) We see it in relation to a type of playing piece - (characters) - which then influences what we consider it to be - (role-playing) - in a manner that is inconsistent with the word game itself. (No game is defined by its playing piece(s), unless they are the medium itself, (e.g. dice)).

2) We do not recognise and understand the difference between gameplay development that is written BY the player(s), and that which is told TO the player(s) - when ONLY the former can be used to define a game at all.

The problem with Diablo III, in particular, is with the latter, especially.

Michael DeFazio
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thanks for pointing out my blunder (it's always great when you make a mistake ...and bold it just for emphasis).

i think we agree in spirit/principle (not "principal" <-- see i gets better with the englishes)

with regards to this statement:
"Of all the elements you mention, only ONE, truly matters, because it objectively enables the application of behaviour we call/label as a game in the first place: Game mechanics."

the first draft of this post was totally inline with this above quote, however, the more i thought about my own personal experiences, and the more i discussed with friends "why they continue to play games they play" things like "community" came up, (my good friend said he quit WoW and got "dragged back in" because his guild kept pestering him via IM's and email, and both of those mechanisms are "outside" of WoW's "game mechanics"). (but i think i understand what you are driving at if the game's mechanics facilitate a good community)

also, i play poker (first home games, then online with my friends i play home games with), and all of the other buddies i play with at home games told me they play on "Poker Stars"... so, i joined and played on "Poker Stars" (i also joined "Full Tilt" years ago but i never played there much just because my friends weren't there), again this had nothing to do with the "game mechanics" but rather the "community network effect".

anyways, i think we agree in spirit, and that's what matters... (i hope we don't enter into one of gamasutra's notorious "semantic death spirals" about the meaning of "game", or "game mechanics", or "play" or "fun" ... cheers.

Darren Tomlyn
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I think what we're talking about, ultimately comes back to this:

If the reason you play a game is not for the game itself - then it's probably not a very good game, even if it's an enjoyable activity. If all you are looking for is the latter, then that's fine - but if you want a good game first, then we've got problems, currently. (And whether or not poker is a game or a competition, can be purely a matter of subjective perception).

The problem at this time, is that many (most?) people have trouble recognising and understanding the difference between the two - (and not just those who make and play games etc. - but a lot of humanity itself has problems unlinking objective 'quality' with subjective
feelings of or about many things - and games are no exception. E.g. people who don't like a game automatically think it's a 'bad game' even if, as a game, it functions perfectly).

For people who design games, however, if they wish to do the best job they can, then they not only truly need to know what games are, but also understand how and why they function (or need to function) the way they do - which leads to the recognition and understanding of the objective quality of a game's functionality and overall quality as a game - (beyond merely being a work of art).

But games are still not fully recognised and understood in general by people at this time, which is why we're having problems... (And confusing games for puzzles and competitions is a large symptom of this problem, which is ultimately a matter of linguistics).

This is why games are now being 'corrupted' by many elements being added that do nothing for the 'game' at all, to try and improve it as an activity that people want to take part in - which then becomes a problem if it DETRACTS from the actual game itself - (especially if it's then turned into something else, such as turning Diablo III into a competition).

Normally, humanity is in a position to cope with such products - due to the amount being produced/designed and researched - BUT - for computer games this has yet to be true, (IMO).

THIS is one main reason why I feel that the entire computer game 'industry' has yet to fully mature - even if parts of it seem to have done so - (in comparison to other creative industries).

Darren Tomlyn
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(Doh - double post - (Crappy internet connection, sorry)).

Michael DeFazio
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An honest/fair video discussion on "Why I quit Diablo 3" (from a avid Diablo 2 "gear grinder") also someone who enjoyed the game (not just your normal hyperbole):

"...the second that I purchased the items in the RMAH ...(i realized)... i don't see the point of playing"

" (RMAH) fells necessary to progress... kills the desire for me to play the game"